The free memory upgrade is back.
PC sales held up better than expected last year. But the beginning of the year is usually a slow period and computer companies are looking for any angle to get us to buy. Meanwhile the price of DRAM has collapsed in recent months, making it easier to offer "free" upgrades to 6- or even 8GB on many systems.
Lately there has been a lot of concern that demand for DRAM is slowing down. Windows 7 doesn't require more memory, and most users seem to get by just fine with 4GB or less. In addition, most tablet PCs have only 1GB of memory, so if slates start cutting into sales of netbooks and notebooks, it could further drag down DRAM. But these recent deals demonstrate that if the price is right, PC companies will keep on adding more memory.
These aren't budget boxes either. Many of these are updated desktops and laptop designs that include Intel's new, second-generation Core processors, known by the code-name Sandy Bridge, and in many cases discrete graphics. In addition to extra helpings of memory, it's interesting to see how roomy 1TB hard drives are becoming common even in relatively inexpensive desktops.
Here are some current offers that caught my eye:
The Pavilion p6780t series, a new system HP launched at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, is currently available on hpshopping.com with both a memory and hard drive upgrade. The starting $629.99 configuration includes the new Intel Core i5-2300 quad-core, 6GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive. The bases system relies on Intel's HD 2000 graphics, but HP offers several AMD and Nvidia discrete options. The smaller Pavilion Slimline s5780t series has the exact same configuration at the same $629.99 price (though with fewer graphics options). At the higher-end, HP's Pavilion Elite 500 series desktop with 6GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive and Nvidia GeForce 315 discrete graphics starts at $599.99 with an AMD quad-core or $699.99 with the Intel quad-core.
On the laptop side, HP is also offering memory and hard drive upgrades. The HP Pavilion dv5t, a mainstream laptop with a 14.5-inch display, starts at $549.99 with a Pentium dual-core, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive. The larger Pavilion dv6z with a 15.6-inch display currently starts at $679.99 with an AMD dual-core, 6GB of memory and a 640GB hard drive. The desktop replacement dv7t with a 17.3-inch display has the new Sandy Bridge quad-core, the 2GHz Core i7-2630QM. It currently starts at $999.99 with the 6GB memory upgrade and AMD's Mobility Radeon HD 6570 discrete graphics. The dual-core versions of Sandy Bridge are not available in laptops yet, which is why the smaller or less pricey notebooks are still using the older chips. (Here are links to reviews of different configurations of the dv5, dv6, and dv7.)
Dell is currently offering memory upgrades and other deals on several desktops on dell.com. Two of them stand out. The Inspiron 580 starts at $549.99 with an Intel dual-core processor, 6GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive. The higher-end Dell XPS 8300 has the new Intel quad-core processor and includes 18.5-inch LCD monitor. It starts at $949.99 with 8GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive and AMD's Radeon HD 5450 discrete graphics. Most of Dell's laptops top out 4GB--at least in the starting configurations--though these are sometimes advertised as memory upgrades from 2- or 3GB.
Best Buy lists several desktops on its site with 6GB starting with the Gateway SX series small-form-factor PC at $499.99 (reviews from CNET and others here). This budget system has a Pentium dual-core and a 1TB hard drive. The larger Gateway DX series tower packs the new Sandy Bridge quad-core, 6GB and a 1TB hard drive for $649.99. Best Buy also lists the same Dell XPS 8300 configuration without a monitor for $749.99. Most laptops on Best Buy's site have 4GB of memory or less, but there are several models with more memory though they typically cost around $800 or more (there's one Asus 11.6-inch laptop with an AMD dual-core and 6GB for less).
Obviously the exact pricing and configurations will change in short order. The release of Intel's new dual-cores next month--and AMD's Llano dual- and quad-core later this year--should bring a new wave of desktops and laptops. But as long as DRAM prices remain depressed, there will continue to be some attractive deals out there.